Fox News Halftime Report -- The tortured politics of presidential vacations

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Fox News Halftime Report

August 8, 2017

By Chris Stirewalt


On the roster: The tortured politics of presidential vacations - Shutdown risk grows - Upset may be brewing in Alabama Senate race - Road to riches
 
THE TORTURED POLITICS OF PRESIDENTIAL VACATIONS
The good news for President Trump and the nation is that the skies are clearing in Northern New Jersey, and Trump might get to trade in one of his hobbies, social media, for another of his passions, golf. 

Holed up in a villa at his country club in Bedminster, N.J., Trump has begun his first vacation as president surfing a tweetstorm tsunami and generally seeming miserable. He has fought with a relatively obscure Connecticut senator, complained about press coverage and sounded like, well, a guy who would rather be golfing. 

Trump has been particularly ouchy about the fact that he's even taking a break from Washington at all, declaring it a "working vacation." Of course he is working on vacation. Every president's vacation is a working one. It's not like he can turn on his out-of-office notification for NORAD alerts. 

The president is perhaps understandably sensitive on the subject since he so often attacked his predecessor for getting away. Of course, his predecessor tweaked the president before him for vacationing too much, so not even that is a new addition to the politics of presidential vacations. 

Whether you support Trump or not, it is as pointless to complain about him leaving Washington as it was for Trump to go after Barack Obama or for Obama and Democrats to complain about George W. Bush spending time in Crawford, Texas. 

The idea that somehow the problems of the nation would be improved if the president didn't play golf, even multiple times a month, is borderline farcical. But still it has power. 

Obama's hastily arranged press conference two years ago following the beheading of an American journalist in Syria stands out as the recent peak in presidential recreation politics. 

Obama had been slow to publically accept the significance of the threat posed by ISIS and was under constant criticism from midterm electioneering Republicans for disengagement on the subject. Obama finally addressed the murder and the threat during his Martha's Vineyard vacation, but immediately went back to the golf course. He would later say that he "should have anticipated the optics" of expressing sympathy and outrage before hitting the links, and surely it cost his party that fall. 

So it is understandable that Trump does not want to be seen as working on his mid-irons while North Korea engages in behavior that is somewhere between a provocation and a cry for help. 

Certainly Trump's own political position is considerably weaker than Obama's was in 2014. Obama was on the back nine of his time in office and, while his approval ratings were weakened by his stutter steps on Syria, the 44th president was already focused on burnishing his legacy, not making one. 

At the 200-day mark, Trump is farther under water than Obama ever was and has slipped, on average, more than a dozen points since his 100th day. There is no legacy to protect and open questions even in his own party about whether he will serve out a whole term.
 
Trump is preparing for what promises to be a very ugly autumn in which he uses the force of his small but intensely loyal base of supporters to ram through must-pass legislation before a Sept. 30 deadline. Trump has been moving toward open warfare with holdouts in his own party, and the time to deploy his attack is coming soon.

Meantime, he has no control over the investigation into his 2016 campaign. Trump can't know what investigators are looking at and when there might be a result from an ongoing grand jury probe. Next month? Next year? There's no satellite weather forecast to track the storm.
 
As it relates to the big issues facing his presidency – congressional impasse and the investigation – there's not much Trump can do today to control his destiny. So why shouldn't he play golf?
 
Every American, regardless of party or ideology, ought to want every president to get some mental-health breaks – a Saturday on the golf course or a family vacation can work wonders.
 
Presidents and presidential candidates cultivate the myth of the omnipotent executive as they either claim credit or lay blame for all things at the feet of the chief magistrate. But it's a trap, since doing so suggests that need for omnipresence. 

THE RULEBOOK: THAT WAS THEN…  
"The science of politics, however, like most other sciences, has received great improvement." – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 9

TIME OUT: 'DO NOT EVEN GO INTO THE VILLAGE'
NatGeo: "The 'lost home of Jesus' apostles' has just been found, according to a recent Israeli newspaper report. Yet while the actual discovery is not nearly as sensational as many headlines suggest, the new results are adding very interesting fuel to an ongoing debate about the location of one of the most important cities in the New Testament. … Rather, researchers excavating at the site since 2016 believe they have zeroed in on the city described in the New Testament as the home of the apostles PeterAndrew, andPhilip: Bethsaida. According to the Gospels, Bethsaida was the home of the earliest apostles, as well as the place where Jesus reportedly cured a blind man. … Archaeologists say they have discovered a Roman-era (first- to third-century A.D.) bathhouse at el-Araj, which may be evidence for a significant urban settlement at the site—most likely ancient Bethsaida."
 
Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

SCOREBOARD
Trump net job-approval rating: -21.8 points
Change from one week ago: down 4.2 points

[President Trump's score is determined by subtracting his average job disapproval rating in the five most recent, methodologically sound public polls from his average approval rating, calculated in the same fashion.]

SHUTDOWN RISK GROWS 
WashEx: "Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress are poised to stand in the way of lifting the nation's borrowing limit next month, increasing the chances of real problems for House and Senate leaders as they try to increase the debt ceiling by an end-of-September deadline. House and Senate conservatives have long insisted that debt ceiling increases be accompanied by spending reforms, and that hasn't changed this year, even under a Republican president who is insisting on a 'clean' debt ceiling increase. The House Freedom Caucus, a conservative bloc of more than three dozen GOP lawmakers, has signaled it wants spending cuts in exchange for supporting a debt ceiling increase, but at minimum will push for reforms to how federal dollars are spent as the debt ceiling approaches. Potentially more troubling for the prospects of a debt ceiling increase, the largest group of conservatives, the Republican Study Committee, announced Tuesday it will also oppose a straight increase without spending cuts."

[Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C. offers an op-ed at WashEx opposing the administration's demand saying, "A clean debt ceiling is dirty politics."]

White House quietly courts Democrats for tax overhaul - Politico: "Even as congressional GOP leaders largely embrace a partisan path on taxes, White House officials have been wooing 15 to 20 centrist House Democrats since early summer. The Trump administration is all too aware of congressional Republicans' struggles to come together on a range of hot-button issues — from health care to government spending — and tax reform is littered with political minefields for the party. So the president and his staff are opening a line of communication with moderate Democrats in case a Plan B is needed. At a mid-June dinner at the White House with four centrist House Democrats, President Donald Trump expressed interest in a bipartisan package combining tax reform with infrastructure spending, multiple sources said."

Manchin keeping his options open - Charleston [W. Va.] Gazette: "Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is one of three Senate Democrats who didn't sign a letter establishing the party line on tax reform, though he said Tuesday he agrees with all its components. Manchin, who is up for re-election in 2018, said even though he supports the Democrats' fiscal ideas, he won't sign on without efforts to bring Republicans on board. He also said the election is not influencing his decision-making. 'The bottom line is, if it doesn't help West Virginia, it doesn't make sense to me, and just because there's an election doesn't mean I sign on or don't sign on,' he said."

Health insurance officials seek a backup plan - NYT: "For administration officials and many in Congress, the subsidies are a political and legal issue in a fight over the future of the Affordable Care Act. But for state officials, gathered here at the summer meeting of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, the subsidies are a more immediate, practical concern. The insurance commissioners are frustrated with the gridlock in Washington, which they say threatens coverage for consumers and the solvency of some insurers. Without the payments, they say, consumers will face higher premiums in 2018, and more insurers will pull back from the individual insurance market."

Trump to get briefing on addiction report - Reuters: "President Donald Trump has scheduled what he called a 'major briefing' [today] on the epidemic of opioid drug use in the United States, a health crisis that kills more than 100 Americans daily. In the midst of a two-week getaway at his golf club in New Jersey, Trump will meet with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to discuss the matter. Trump frequently mentioned the opioid crisis as a presidential candidate, but has given it less public attention since taking office in January. A commission created by Trump to study the matter urged him last week to declare a national emergency to address what it called a crisis involving the epidemic use of opioids, framing its death toll in the context of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States."

Fracture coalition makes governing harder for GOP - WashEx: "President Trump and the party he leads are increasingly at each other's throats at a time when lawmakers are back in their districts for recess. … Republicans have taken to doing the same — ignoring the president as if his spotlight-grabbing tweets don't exist and rebuking him on key elements of his foreign and domestic priorities. Their partnership almost resembles a parliamentary-style, ruling coalition rather than the unified, one-party control of government that both sides imagined on Election Day 2016."

UPSET MAY BE BREWING IN ALABAMA SENATE RACE 
NY Mag: "Alabama Republicans are holding a primary election next week to choose their replacement candidate in the Senate for Jeff Sessions. Until recently, the widespread expectation was that in the outcome of the three-horse race between appointed incumbent Luther Strange, U.S. Representative Mo Brooks, and suspended Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, either Strange or Brooks would survive this round of voting to make it to the September 26 runoff election. … Moore's universal name ID and dedicated conservative Evangelical following seemed certain to guarantee him a spot in the September 26 runoff, though the heavy spending of Strange and Brooks opened the possibility that they'd squeeze Moore, who has never been much of a fundraiser, into third place. … But now, the dynamics of the primary are beginning to resemble one of those murder-suicide scenarios where two candidates damage each other so much that a third eclipses both of them."

Heller draws primary challenger - Politico: "Danny Tarkanian, the son of a legendary Nevada college basketball coach who has run for office several times, announced Tuesday morning that he will challenge Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada's Republican primary next year. Tarkanian announced his bid on 'Fox and Friends,' where he criticized Heller as a 'Never-Trumper' and said that his stance on the president helped Hillary Clinton carry the state. 'So many people have contacted me in the past few months, saying 'You got to run against Dean Heller,'' Tarkanian said. 'They understand, like I do, that we're never going to make America great again unless we have senators in office supporting President Trump. Dean Heller wasn't just one of the first Never-Trumpers in the state of Nevada, he was one of the most influential. He actually helped Hillary Clinton win the state of Nevada.'"

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Lynch used email alias 'Elizabeth Carlisle' to write about Clinton tarmac meeting Fox News

Scientists hope leaked climate report will hem in administration - NYT

Chris Stirewalt and Mary Katharine Ham tackle the tough issues, like what's the best tailgate food -The Federalist

Kurt Andersen: 'How America lost its mind' - Atlantic

Kasich leads Trump among likely GOP primary voters in N.H. poll - The Hill

Pence political operation gaining momentum, money - AP 

Secrecy and suspicion surround Transportation Department's deregulation team - NYT

AUDIBLE: SUDSY 
"He's like soap." – Robert Redfordquoted by Politico, describing the slippery way President Trump escapes those who try to hold him to account.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
"I believe that Pres. Trump has totally mishandled his response to the investigation by Robert Muller. Trump should have come out and said 'We welcome the investigation.' Mr. Muller has a stellar reputation, and we believe his investigation will show no collusion or illegalities between my campaign and anyone in the Russian government. If he's right, he's in the clear. If he's not, he can say, 'well, what would you expect from an investigation staffed by a bunch of lawyers who supported Hillary Clinton for President?'" – Rick Williamson, Lawrenceville, Ga.

[Ed. note: I certainly take your point, Mr. Williamson. I offered similar unsolicited advice to the administration when the investigation got underway. But, that's not the approach they're taking. The president and his team pretty clearly think that either a) Mueller is a crook or b) some misdeeds will be revealed. Seeking to discredit Mueller in advance might not help Trump with the broader electorate, but for those who readily believe that the federal government is shot through with deep corruption and conspiracies and that Mueller is out to get Trump, it might be enough.]

"Mr. Mueller is tasked with investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election with almost limitless bounds.  He has now assembled a Grand Jury.  With his latitude and the team of specialized lawyers, why should we believe he is only investigating the Trump Team. Mrs. Clinton's e-mails, Mr. Clinton/Mrs. Lynch and the Tarmac, The Clinton Foundation, the Ukrainians, her team appears to have their share of miss deeds.  Mr. Mueller's group is better positioned to look into the former Senator's past than the current President." – Jim HainOmaha, Neb.

[Ed. note: Presumably, Mr. Hain, if the investigation turns up crimes committed by any American, those crimes will be prosecuted. I presume that if, let's say, Mueller's inquest into hacking uncovered previously unknown communications that pointed to criminal conduct, that would also fall in his purview.]

"The Audible that featured a quote from former DNC Chairman, Howard Dean, could have and probably should have been made by every rational voter irrespective of party affiliation! Certainly, he perfectly described the Republican Party as well! It is mind numbingly bewildering that 52 presumably reasonably intelligent people could not reach a level of compromise on [ObamaCare] that would allow even the appearance of unity and mature concern for effective governance!  Instead, they dig their heels in, publicly exhibit pig headed intransigence, denigrate fellow senator's positions and, in the process, convince an entire electorate of their collective ineptitude! What is it that these people seem incapable of grasping?  As a lifelong conservative, even I knew going in that there were elements that were irredeemable and weren't worth burning time or capital on! … I can hardly wait until they tackle tax reform!  Actually, I just wonder what form of drubbing the Republican Party will subjugate themselves to!  And, I, no doubt, will continue to grind my teeth!" – Carl C. Watson, Niceville, Fla.

[Ed. note: We hope you have a good mouth guard, Mr. Watson, because I expect that we will see more of the same in September. We have talked a lot before about the perverse incentives of a political duopoly in which the highest reward goes to the greatest opposition. Failure is not only an option, but often preferable to the narrow interests of individual lawmakers. I am prone, though, to believe that the situation would have been substantially improved if the GOP had followed normal procedures. They were so worried about poison pills being slipped in along the way that they forgot to put anything curative in their own dose.

Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

ROAD TO RICHES
San Francisco Chronicle: "Thanks to a little-noticed auction sale, a South Bay couple are the proud owners of one of the most exclusive streets in San Francisco – and they're looking for ways to make their purchase pay. Tina Lam and Michael Cheng snatched up Presidio Terrace – the block-long, private oval street lined by 35 mega million-dollar mansions – for $90,000 and change in a city-run auction stemming from an unpaid tax bill. … Now they're looking to cash in – maybe by charging the residents of those mansions to park on their own private street. … Past homeowners have included Sen. Dianne Feinstein and her financier husband, Richard Blum; House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi… A guard is stationed round the clock at the stone-gate entrance to the street to keep the curious away. …Cheng and Lam wound up with the street, its sidewalks and every other bit of 'common ground' in the private development that has been managed by the homeowners since at least 1905."

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
"The fact is that the Congress has been a complete bust. And that I think is a huge disappointment." – Charles Krauthammer on "Special Report with Bret Baier."

 


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